Latent and manifest filmic narration: prison as a visual icon and the representation of political repression during the Years of Lead in Moroccan cinema (2000–2018)

Since the early 2000s, Moroccan cinema has reflected on the period of intense political repression during the rule of King Hassan II, known as the Years of Lead. Running from the 1960s through the 1980s, this period of contemporary Moroccan history was characterised by huge violations of human rights against democracy activists. One of the key features of Hassan II’s repressive policy was a network of secret prisons. In this article, I explore how prison has been represented in a group of 18 historical films produced from the year 2000 through to 2018. The theoretical approach connects concepts from cinema theories to wider questions of historical representation and film. By conducting interviews with eleven Moroccan filmmakers, two actors and two scriptwriters, and by accessing contextual and narrative analysis of the films, I aim to understand the construction of political suffering onscreen. The findings confirm that the prison as filmic icon pervades most of the films in ways that connect the plot with an inherited fear that overwhelms the main characters; fear at the prospect of imprisonment, fear deriving from the experience of actually being in prison, and fear that develops in the aftermath of having been imprisoned.